Slay the Spire is fuelled by compulsion. The compulsion to push on, to try again, to discover the myriad secrets that the titular tower possesses. But at the heart of all that drive is one single, unshakeable idea: you have to slay the spire.
The game is a deck-building roguelike, resplendent with garish horrors to fight and tricky tasks to overcome. Each race through the game offers up a vast amount of tactical slaughter and a heap of choices that will decide whether or not you manage to reach the top.
Your weapons for this task come in the form of cards. You have attacks, blocks, and skills that bridge the two. Each character begins a standard run with a starter deck, and you’ll unlock new cards as you kill your way up the floors.
The first few tries will see you fail – and fail badly. Then you’ll start to get to grips with the different styles that each character offers. You’ll have to unlock most of those characters first, pushing through with the warrior you begin with to get the knife-wielding, back-stabbing rogue and the magical, spell-casting robot. It’ll take even longer to get the fourth character, a stance-shifting martial artist.
Once you start exploring the different possibilities the characters present, the game opens up into a thing of almost exquisite beauty. You’ll hanker to find the cards to suit your play style, cheering when you find one in the corpse of a defeated foe or for sale in the shops that dot the map.
Every time you play, you feel like you’ve learned something. Figuring out which enemies to kill first when you’re confronted with specific combinations of foes, learning the strengths and weaknesses of the massive bosses that sit at the end of every section – the game is always asking you to consider your strategy and to revise it with new information.
And there are layers upon layers of that information. Relics, for example, give you specific buffs. Curses pop up as well, and they can stymie the best-laid plans. Enemies that are easy to kill with one character pose huge problems for others. There are no blunt instruments here, just subtly shifting sands that drag you deeper and deeper into the experience.
Scattered throughout the battles and rest stops are tiny slices of a strange and confusing story – little suggestions that make you start questioning what you think you know. Compulsion, desire, obsession – it can be hard to know whether it’s the characters in the game or you, the player, that’s being referred to.
Is this mobile version the best way to play Slay the Spire? Probably not. It’s finicky and fiddly, and even though you’re just choosing cards and moving through menus, the controls don’t feel as natural as they could.
But it manages to work past that, to make you forgive its mistakes and keep climbing, because you have to slay the spire. That one idea will push you on and on, and you’re going to enjoy every moment of it.
There’s a moment halfway through Slay the Spire where you check to see how much time you’ve put into the game. That point, when you stare, aghast and proud at the gargantuan number of hours you’ve already sunk into the thing, gives you a feeling few other games can replicate.
Slay the Spire has some niggles on mobile, but its brilliance and compulsive nature still manage to shine through.
Genre: Card game
Format: IOS (tested) / PC
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Release: Out now